Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ssshhhh: I’m Teaching.

The Sounds of Silence

Courtesy xkcd, of course

Any typesetter worth his or her salt will tell you that the space on a page that has not been inked is just as important as the space containing words. White space is as necessary to being able to read as words are.

Imagine, if you will, how hard it would be to read withoutthespecebetweenwords. Imagine how hard it would be without a space between lines. Or without margins. Or, in a newspaper, columns.

Negative space is vital to speech, too: we hear pauses that convey a great deal. A good reader modulates the pace of what they read so as to indicate to the audience where sentences begin and end.

When teaching writing, it is a factor that is often overlooked in our rush to produce content — and how to read and use punctuation which creates space — such as the em dash — is not considered as important as the period or comma. Teachers also do not teach layout, and how to maximize legibility with white space. Perhaps teachers have not been taught that themselves, even though they notice it when it has not been utilized well.

Caslon specimen sheet. Use it sometime at 12 pt, with 16 point leading

The same goes for learning how to use the “white space” of silence when teaching. Some teachers feel that they only have control of the student’s attention when they are actively speaking: the result is that the teacher never shuts up. Learning how to maintain control of the room while not speaking — to create a charged atmosphere with the absence of sound — is a great tool. A good, engaging teacher can convey much with their body language and eyebrows without having to say a thing.

It is necessary during every class period for the students to have time to gather their thoughts and to compose speech of their own. When asking a question, teachers often rush in to fill the silence of an answer doesn’t come quickly enough. It is important, sometimes, to let your words hang in the air for effect.

Only appropriate if you're an auctioneer. Not so much if you're teaching. 

When students read, it is easy to hear when they miss the temporal cues which govern the pace of the text. We’ve all heard that kid who reads in one long stream, ignoring sentence structure in an effort to race to the end. In this case, they are not reading, so much as gobbling type. Reading aloud is not the same as reading, silently, to ourselves. Teaching aloud is likewise different. Sometimes, we must teach — and learn — silently, in order to understand. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Replacement Google and Hamlet

Thank the Lord Bard! 

I know that some people bemoan the computer and how ubiquitous it has become in our daily lives. It has become the tool by and through which we conduct most transactions — whether it be business, communications, shopping, study, or our social (or sex) lives. Sure, you can end up spending all day in front of a screen if you’re not careful, but occasionally, the internet provides a very nice counterpoint to real life that makes me like it a little more.

The very epitome of random: type in any search term and see what comes up....

Such is the case with the quick-witted parody site, which sprung up via the NFL replacement refs debacle. The point is satire — to demonstrate, through humor, how important it is that the tools we use and rely on function the way they’re supposed to. What would happen if Google broke down? Chaos would ensue.

Because I am a nerd, this reminds me of Shakespeare. In particular, it calls to mind the prescience of Hamlet’s speech about the importance of acting — or playacting — as a means to reveal real truths. Football players and refs as actors on a 100-yard green stage? Yep. Us sitting at home as an audience watching drama onscreen? Yep. Go on — you can take it from here.

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this
 special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature:
 for any thing so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose
 end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the
 mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own 
image, and the very age and body of the time his form and
Hamlet Act 3, scene 2, 17–24

Monday, September 17, 2012

Put Your Phone Down, Already.

Call me stupid (stupid!), but when I am at a concert — a live music experience I paid good money to enjoy — I like to pay attention to what’s going on on the stage. I even like to pay attention to what’s going on in the audience, because that’s part of the live experience too; the conversation the musician has with the crowd. I like to sing along to every word, loudly (no-one can hear), and dance my ass off. I want to immerse myself in the heady physicality that a concert is — the way you can feel the bass drum thump in your chest. It’s a glorious escape from the mundane, non-music-filled life outside the venue.

What I do not want to do is text my friends and check out the internet.

And yet, that’s what people do. Mostly girls. I don’t get it. OK; that’s a lie — I do get it — they’re addicted to the digital extension of their hand and can’t bear to be out of the loop for a second. They simply cannot bear to slip it in a pocket, or (gasp!) turn the damn thing off for a couple of hours.

The other night I was at a concert that rocked my face off — yet one side of me there was a young guy, clearly a fan, who sang along about 50% of the time, and the rest of the time he was tapping away at his phone with his thumbs. On the other side, a girl who never smiled, busied herself with her phone 98% of the time. She seemed really bummed out by the dim lighting and dancing people making it difficult for her to concentrate on the screen. Next to her sat four other girls doing exactly the same thing. Maybe they were all there together; it was hard to tell. They didn’t interact with anyone at all, not even each other.

The only thing that distracted them from their incessant scrolling was when a fight broke out in the seats up to our left, and the security had a hard time getting one of the drunken participants out of the arena. She then texted her friends about this. 

I’d provide a photo of her, but I didn’t have a phone on me. And my phone doesn’t have a camera on it, anyway.

Damn, people.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Paperless Ticket Blues

I am attending a concert tomorrow at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center. In order to get into the building, I will have to present the credit card with which I purchased the ticket, along with a state-issued ID. To be perfectly honest, I bought the ticket a while ago, and have no idea whether the “paperless ticket” is standard for either the venue, the ticketing agency (Ticketmaster) for this specific venue, or the artist (Eric Church, who is known to want to crack down on scalping).

Sure, a “paperless ticket” that pops you into the building instantly (with no possibility for re-entry) gets rid of scalpers — but at what cost? In Economics 101, we learn that certain actions have an “opportunity cost,” or the actual cost, when one factors in esoteric values involved in making the purchase. In other words, “collateral damage to your rights as a consumer.”

I will state right now, in the interests of disclosure, that I am of that generation which treasured the ticket stub as a valuable memento of a concert experience. That small thick stub imprinted with the band’s name and date provided authoritative proof that you had been there, done that. Some folks slip the stub into the band’s CD (or if they’re older, the record sleeve); others stick them to their bedroom door in a kind of awesome mosaic dedicated to losing one’s hearing. The “print-your-own” tickets were an affront to the entire aesthetic, but at least you arrived at the turnstile armed with proof of payment and the welcome confidence you’d be admitted.

A paperless ticket? Not so much.

In fact, now that I’ve read the instructions / rules / warnings I was just sent in an email about how to proceed, I am downright nervous. I am now so unsure I will get in that I was moved to print a copy of my emailed receipt (which sort of negates the “paperless” part). Here’s why: I no longer have the card I used to purchase the ticket.

I cannot be alone. This has got me thinking about the cornucopia of horror that potentially awaits the crowd hustling to get into the arena tomorrow night, most of whom will be drunk (you’re refused entry if “visibly intoxicated”) due to tailgating for several hours in the parking lot.

For one thing, your entire party must be present along with the cardholder for anyone to gain entry. What if JimBob couldn’t make it? What if he’s passed out drunk in his truck in the parking garage? What if he forgot to bring his wallet? What if his dog ate the card? What if he lent it to his teenage daughter to buy school supplies (*cough*) for college? What if his wife MaryLou is caught in traffic or can’t find a parking space and the rest of the party is waiting in an angry and resentful mob by the gate?

What if you got married and you’re a woman and your surname changed and it’s on your brand new driver’s license, but not yet on your credit card?

What if you bought the ticket on a gift card and now that it’s all used up and you’ve tossed it, it no longer exists? Gift cards don’t have names on. What if you want to see a show but do not have a credit card? What if you’d prefer to pay in cash? What if you’re a teenager?

What if your Mom bought you the ticket for a birthday gift, but you don’t want to bring your Mom, kicking and screaming, to an Eric Church Show? In this case, the CONSOL Energy Center advises, have your Mom give you her credit card for the night so you can get in. How this works with the state-issued ID thing, they fail to address. Good luck reading about this today in the email they just sent you, and having her send you her card from Colorado in time for the show. What if Mom doesn’t want to give up her credit card for the night because she needs it?

What if the person who bought the ticket is now sadly deceased? Or out of the country? What if the ticket was bought by your ex-boyfriend and now he takes someone else because you can’t show up with your ticket?

If you can’t bring the actual card, the CONSOL Energy Center asks you to write all of the card’s details down so it can be given to the ticket schmuck and he or she can check it out to see if it’s legit. Don’t even say the word “security” to me. Shhtp. Don’t even.

What if the ticket schmucks are so incredibly overwhelmed with issues that the lines go back all the way to downtown and you miss half the show? Will they offer to refund your paperless ticket and wipe away your tears?

You are not allowed to bring a camera or gun into the CONSOL Energy Center. This is probably a good thing. After all, you don't want angry folks who can't get in shooting up the place. But if I don’t have a camera, how am I going to take a picture of Justin Moore’s crotch from the great seat I have up front?

Assuming, that is, I can even get in.

UPDATE: Sept 16, 2012

Well, the whole “paperless ticket” approach was a debacle. A disaster. A don’t-you-ever-do-it-again. Here’s what went down:

The email customers were sent said that we could use any of the venue’s three entrances. That is not so. After lining up to get in at the Verizon Gate (yes, gates are sponsored now too), hapless paperless folks were told by harried staff that they could not be processed there, so had to turn back and weave our way through a giant throng of incoming concert-goers to try another entrance. This meant having to cut in to the line of hustling concert-goers at another gate. (I know, I know, bad behavior — but hey, we’d already spent an hour in line at a different gate.) Once in the door, everyone had to file past a guy with a barcode scanner who scanned tickets and let people in. What? I hear you say — people had tickets? Yes, I thought that was odd too. It seems a third of the 13,000 had traditional tickets, a third had print-your-own tickets and a third had sod-all. Who knows. Conspiracy theories ran wild: it seemed only those who’d paid top dollar for floor seats had to go through this particular hell.

Well, the scanner guy had a credit card swiper, and try as he might, my card kept coming up “invalid.” So he sent me to another guy across the way to see if his swiper worked. It didn’t. So he sent me to the Guest Services desk.

The Guest Services desk by this time was completely swamped by people just like me: all of us had the same problem. I know, because I asked, and everyone there was holding a credit card and driver’s license in their angry hands. By the time I reached the window, the show was about to start. The ticketless were a seething, confused and pissed off mob. Luckily, they printed me a ticket. Here it is. Some weren’t so fortunate, and whole groups were turned away. I cannot say what happened to them, but it seems they were the victims of the “entire party present before anyone gets inside” rule.

Sure enough, after cutting in line yet again (I know! sorry, sorry), I made it through the scanner and in. The lights had gone down and Kip Moore had taken the stage.

Dear Eric Church and anyone wanting to sell “paperless tickets” ever again:

If you truly love your fans like you say you do, DON’T.

Here is a review of the show at The Inky Jukebox

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

That’s Nuts!

Conkers Are The Dog's Bollocks

Fruit of the Horse Chestnut tree, AKA conkers. (See note below.)

Wikipedia, the People’s Font of Knowledge, helpfully informs readers that bollocks appear between prick and arsehole. For those with a passing familiarity with human anatomy, this might seem like an overstatement of the obvious, which it would be if it were about actual genitals. But the reference is to the words “prick,” “bollocks,” and “arsehole” as profanities, and how they are perceived by the British public in terms of severity (according to a study for the BBC). “Bollocks” ranked 8th (you can figure out where “prick” and “arsehole” placed).

In Britain, “bollocks” is a treasured bit of language that has meant more than testicles for several hundred years. Let’s face it: “bollocks” is a more descriptive word, isn’t it? It’s suggestion of the swing and heft of a man’s balls is onomatopoeic in a way that “testicles” just isn’t. Americans use the completely inadequate word “balls,” which is misleading, because they aren’t; they’re more oblate. As a swear word, “balls” lacks the tongue action of the word “bollocks,” which is more emphatic and sounds funnier when the speaker is drunk. A “ball” could be anything; a “bollock,” on the other hand, is a bollock.

The Wiki page will tell you everything you ever wanted to know and more about the way the Brits, Scots and Irish use the word. Most of them call to mind that other great British expression for something that has gone terribly wrong: a “cock-up.” The British people have a great affinity for references to a man’s wedding tackle, something that makes the language both tremendously exciting to use and also somewhat dangerous, as one trips among a verbal minefield in polite company. To have “bollixed” something up means the same thing, but with more inventive spelling.

If one has a cock up, it is possible to receive a “right bollocking.” Although it sounds terrifying, it only involves a lot of rather fierce shouting.

Though the word “bollocks” usually refers to a mistake, by Man or nature, or nonsense along the lines of “bullshit,” it can also (confusingly for non-native speakers), be a positive thing. When something is “the dog’s bollocks,” it means brilliant, the best, unsurpassed. Why? Because a dog can lick it’s own scrotum, which according to many gents, is an admirable talent. Being able to do so would be “the dog’s bollocks.”

If you use the English language — if you love the English language, then it behooves you to become fluent in its genitalia-related profanity. Doing so will not only expand your vocabulary in endlessly entertaining ways, but you will be practicing an ancient tongue that predates the fastidious censorship of dictionaries which have looked the other way when flashed the goods. 

☆   ☆   ☆   ☆

NOTE: In the autumn, British schoolchildren play a particularly vicious game called "conkers," which involves skewering a shiny horse chestnut, threading it with string, and smashing it against an opponent's conker. The one whose conker is smashed loses. Conkers, with their prickly exterior and twin nuts bear an uncanny resemblance to testicles. Watch the helpful video below and try not to imagine substituting the word "bollocks" for "conkers" throughout.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

What a Metaphor is For

Stealing Thunder Y'all

Like a thief in the night.

How many otherwise good songs have been ruined by that awful metaphor? Dum dum dum, need something that rhymes with “alright.” Tight? Fight? Might? Black and white? Strunk & White? This sounds like shite?

And who is this thief operating under the cloak of darkness? Why, it is the scoundrel who stole some young girl’s heart. Like a thief in the night he / she stole my heart. Damn. You need a better security system or a big dog. You need a Colt 45.

Songwriters need to come up with some new material, pronto. Bitch done crushed my soul, y’know. That’s better. Drop-kick my goddamn heart before you leave the field. Even that. Baby just pickpocketed my whole life. Slipped his hand in mine and there it went. Palmed my soul like a wallet and walked away. Just stop using the words “like” or “as” because similes aren’t as strong as metaphors. When it comes to your broken heart, you don’t want to be dealing with weaksauce verbiage.

While we’re at it, let’s punt Roget in the ass and find some new rhymes. Heart rhymes with start. With apart. With fart. With cart. If you’re really clever, with can’t. Love rhymes with above, glove, shove, dove and have, on a good day. Rodgers and Hart rhymed "spoil" with "girl" in 1929 by squeezing the singer's tongue around until it pronounced it "goil." That's inventive. And funny. Especially as the joke was a double entendre, the song being about Manhattan. 

The only good cliché featuring the word “night” is in the still of the night. Sung by either David Coverdale or the Five Satins. It gets better. It gets meta. It shoulda, woulda, coulda. For fuck’s sake sing a new song.

Four of the Five Satins. The early days of lip syncing were rough on performers and audience alike.

No-one's paying any attention to the lyrics anyway. 

Mastering The Art of Bargain Hunting

$1 < $850 = AWESOME

The original

In order to feed and care for my blog about horrid cookbooks, Yuckylicious, I must constantly be on the lookout for new material. The best worst cookbooks can’t be found at normal bookstores. They pop up on the shelves of used bookstores, charity shops, library book sales and yard sales. The very best ones are donated when an old lady dies and no-one wants to be reminded of the awful dishes she once cooked from them.

I get a great deal of satisfaction when I come across a book from the early 1970s (a golden age for grotesque cookbooks) dedicated to one kind of food: cookies, say. There is no end to the horror of nastiness one can wreak on a family with dull or ill-conceived cookies. I even prefer that the books be obviously and lovingly used, with notes written in the margins, and spattered with crusty stains. Occasionally you’ll find recipes torn from newspapers and magazines stuffed between pages.


But among all those bad cookbooks are some real gems — the genuinely classic cookbooks real foodies love to have in their own collections. A Mrs. Beeton, say, or a Larousse, or a Ma Cuisine. More contemporary must-haves include one I picked up (finally) this week: Julia Child’s eponymous Mastering The Art of French Cooking, which is said to be responsible for changing the American food landscape from the ground up. I’m not sure that anyone actually uses it anymore as a recipe book, but its fame requires that it be there as a reference guide. It’s spawned a movie, Julie & Julia. It’s never been out of print, and the delicate fleur-de-lys cover is instantly recognizable; indeed, contemporary editions have done away altogether with the original dust jacket.

I’ve always put off seeking out this one, partly because I am not a huge fan of Mrs. Child, and partly because I like my books to come to me, rather than go to them. This is one people tend to hold on to, so you don’t see them that often in the kinds of places I hunt for books.

So it was with resigned interest that I spotted a copy of what became Volume One for sale for a whole American dollar at the library sale. It sat among copies of the New York Times Cookbook (Craig Claiborne’s classic) and something called The Book of Cheese. It was worn, the spine loose and supple, torn a little at the ends, and grubby, as if it had been picked up for fifty years or so by wet, work-stained hands. Inside, the yellowed pages bore the scars of many dishes whose ingredients had spattered across them, flung across stoves and countertops while the book lay open and exposed. Penciled notes dotted the margins and back flyleaf. It made me wonder if the person who donated it was the last of a long line of cooks, if the family that remained used only the microwave to heat up frozen meals from Trader Joes. It seemed shocked at being unwanted and a little lonely, separated, as it must be, from its former tomes. So I tucked it under my arm, paid my dollar, and brought it home.

Later that night I perused it in more detail. It turns out that this grand dame of a book is rather an aristocrat: a first edition. A quick but thorough bit of online inquisition told me it is worth over $800. Most people would consider the majority of my collection utterly worthless (“you paid 50 cents for that?”), so I am rather chuffed. I might even bring it out of retirement and add some stains of my own.